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Posts by Stacey Powell
First, to alleviate any perception that I am speaking ill of him, I want to share what a fine man he was. My love of community service comes from him. His dedication to making this world a better place is clear in this tribute:
Even his business ownership was, in a way, community service. He was ‘saving the family business.’ http://www.davidlnelson.md/FFF_FlyTyingGroup/Buszeks/BuszekHistory.htm
Now, on to telling the truth. As a child I watched my father work, work, work, and then work some more. He came home late for dinner, went back to work at night, and worked most weekends. Even our few vacations were often spent at work-related fly fishing conclaves or networking conferences. Both of my parents worked, hard, yet we never seemed to have any money. We weren’t destitute; dinner was always on the table. But money was always an uncomfortable issue. Always having a keen sense of numbers and business, even at a young age it was apparent to me that something wasn’t right. I often wondered, weren’t business owners supposed to be rich?
As a teenager, I became the bookkeeper for my dad’s business, and my childhood observations were clarified. The business was barely profitable. My dad either trusted me enough to let me see his truth, or he thought I was so inexperienced I wouldn’t get it. It wasn’t my place to ask.
But the questions I kept to myself then are the exact kinds of questions I ask clients now. And they are questions I want you to ask yourself if you own a business, no matter how large or small. Yes, even a side Tupperware business, or a little consulting gig, or do a bit of wedding photography. These are all businesses, and they do impact your family!
Here are 12 questions to ask yourself.
- Do you spend less time with your children, spouse, or friends as a result of your business?
- Have you ever paid an employee late?
- Are there months that your business doesn’t pay you?
- Do you ever put off buying basic things your family needs because your business needs the money more?
- Have you ever lied (or avoided the truth) about your business’ finances to your spouse?
- When was the last time you took a real vacation?
- Do you avoid asking for professional advice about your business’ health?
- Do you truly know how profitable your business is?
- Is your business contributing to a retirement fund?
- Do you have partnership agreements that aren’t in writing?
- How much have you borrowed against your family’s home, retirement, savings, children’s college fund or inheritance?
- Does your spouse’s income support your business?
If you don’t like your answer to more than a couple of these questions, it’s time to find a trusted advisor, a business coach, an external CFO, or a mastermind group and tell the truth. Print this blog out and put it in the front of a binder titled “Making My Business Better.” Make an action plan. Make it better. In six months, ask yourself the questions again. Then repeat.
What would my dad’s answers to these questions have been? 100% not good. In the 32 years I watched him run his business, I only saw his business run him. I’ve taken these lessons and have been committed to reverse engineer his mistakes into a balanced plan for running my business. I haven’t always been successful, but one of my life’s quests is to be just like my dad when it comes to community service, and exactly opposite my dad when it comes to small business ownership.
We all make financial decisions every single day, some small, some large. Do I cook at home or go out to eat? Do I change banks? Do I clean my own home or hire a housecleaner? Do I buy a used car, a new car or lease a car? Do I start my own business or buy a franchise?
The original title for this blog was “10 things you might want to talk with your CFO about,” but most people don’t have a Chief Financial Officer (though I’m trying to change that.) Many people do, however, have a financial planner, a tax accountant, a business coach, or some trusted advisor. Rising in popularity is the type of financial and money coaching that I believe is so valuable.
Over the years I’ve had many a client announce, during their scheduled monthly appointment, “I leased a building last week,” or “my attorney submitted all the paperwork to change my business to an S corporation,” or “I took out a home equity loan.” I always wonder why they wouldn’t have waited just one more week to discuss the decision with me. I suspect it’s often our subconscious telling us to move forward before someone tells us “no.”
Accountants get accused of being naysayers, and there’s a bit of truth to that. We’re conservative by nature. I’ll be the first to tell you: don’t always take your accountant’s advice. But: do always ask for it. Discussing the facts of major decisions, as well as the feelings and the what-if’s, is invaluable.
What are the 10 things you should discuss before you jump in?
Last February I promised myself that I would implement a creative motivating approach to ensure this January would not suck. In an accountant’s world, no matter how planned and prepared you are, the multiple January 31st bureaucratic deadlines wreak a bit of havoc on your business. This year was going to be different!
The first workday of January I handed 21 crisp $5 bills and 21 crisp $1 bills to my staff and had them hang three ‘clotheslines,’ $6 for each day
and one clothesline for each team member. The instructions for distributing the ‘prize money’ was as follows: I got the $6 any day I had to deal with January bureaucratic deadlines, and they got the money on days they handled it all. $5 went to rockstar team member #1, and $1 to the supporting team player.
Is $126 enough money to motivate your staff? Is it enough to motivate ourselves? No.
But the truth about motivation is that money is rarely the most effective method. (Unless you’re Goldman Sachs handing out high six-figure bonuses. That’s motivating.) For most micro businesses that’s not an option. In a micro business, serving your clients and providing value is often the highest motivation.
How can we use money to motivate ourselves and our team? Here are some creative approaches we’ve used with clients:
Pay yourself first. This works for the business owner who always pays everyone and everything else first, and then doesn’t have enough left over to pay herself. She’s extremely motivated to pay her vendors, but not so much herself. We implement a bill-paying structure that puts her first, and by the end of the month, she’s jamming to bring in enough money to pay her vendors, because she won’t let them down.
Put yourself on a commission structure. This works for the business owner whose monthly income fluctuates between high and low. He has a good month, he takes all of the profit and suffers during his next low month. For a commission structure to work, you need to learn how to set your base ‘salary,’ which you can read here: The Power of a Salary Structure. Then create a motivating commission structure for yourself, document it, take no more, and take no less from your business.
Bonus your team based on your goals for the year. Small businesses rarely commission their employees, but if you want your team to be extremely clear about your goals, putting a commission structure in place for them, no matter what size, signals that you need their help in reaching your goals. It’s not just about the money, it’s about the motivation.
How do you implement creative motivation in your business?
- Choose one thing that consistently nags at you about your business and look at solutions from a creative vantage point.
- Choose a dollar amount you’re willing to invest in the problem.
- Use a creative way to come up with your implementation plan (mind mapping, journaling, drawing with crayons are a few great approaches).
- Then jump in and earn the results you want!
I love working with creatives: artists, actors, healing professionals, writers, photographers, all of them. Our society has created a “right brain vs. left brain” mentality. If you’re creative, you aren’t a strong business person. If you’re a strong business person, you aren’t creative. But we know black and white statements aren’t true. Creatives can make great business people, especially when they provide themselves with structure. Creatives have the ideas, the willingness and the passion to throw themselves full force into their work. And that is what it takes to be successful in business.
One of my inspiring clients decided, as a strategic business decision, that 2010 was going to be her year of “living as an artist.” She had long worked hard on her business; she had tethered herself to do the work, bring in the clients and earn a living. She had been successful enough, but by the time she got to me she wasn’t enjoying it much. Something needed to change.
“Creatives have the ideas, the willingness and the passion to throw themselves full force into their work. And that is what it takes to be successful in business.”
So 2010 was her year of living as an artist. Her mission was to fully embrace her creativity and joy of being an artist. Her goals, strategies and actions all supported that mission. There was still some structure: billable work, marketing, financial coaching and professional development. But the focus was on enjoying her creative talents, not on meeting her monthly revenue goals.
And what were the results? November and December were two of the most profitable months she’s ever had. And, she’s happy. It was a year of transformation and expansion for her. She’s well positioned to focus on revenue growth in 2011. Most important of all, she was well cared for, and she is, after all, the most valuable asset in her business.
Why would I, an accountant, support that kind of strategy? Because I’ve seen its effectiveness and profitability, over and over and over. If it’s done with intention and structure, it can be a very effective business decision for both creatives and for any other kind of business owner.
What’s your mission for 2011? Does it include creativity? Art? Health? If not, weave it in, and then write down what kind of return on investment you expect from giving yourself that gift.
Many experiences in my career explain my evolution to becoming a “Money Wise Woman.” My tenure at Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC), my time at the financial helm of CARES, an agency that I helped grow from $500,000 to $3 million in three years, and the past 13 years I’ve advised, coached and counseled hundreds on their business and personal finances at Creating Answers.
But those experiences aren’t why I’m a Money Wise Woman. There was a point in my life that I awoke to the fact that I had placed myself in serious financial trouble, and that’s when I started telling the truth about it.
Even with all I knew, and no matter how hard I tried to get myself out of it, for whatever reason, I couldn’t. That’s when I started seeking more answers. And not just from fellow financial professionals, but from coaches, mentors and counselors. And that’s when I had my big “ah ha” moment, when I realized what keeps so many people stuck in their financial lives.
We don’t tell the truth. We don’t talk about money, so we have no opportunity to tell the truth about it. There are few places to go when you feel stuck with your money and don’t know what to do. When you’re a financial professional, it’s even scarier. I was stuck in denial, fear, shame and blame. Having the courage to start telling the truth made all the difference in the world.
For years, I had many clients who didn’t want to take the time to talk to me about their money. I was their accountant, and it just wasn’t a priority for them. Now it’s a cornerstone of my practice that every client talks to us about their finances every month. It makes a marked difference in their financial clarity, and their financial peace.
My advice to those of you who feel stuck in some area of your financial life: Talk to someone consistently and productively. Your bookkeeper, your accountant, a coach, a trusted mentor, a trusted colleague. Draw a circle of support around you, tell the truth, and create some accountability in your financial life. It will make all the difference.